Fresh from her triumph in Five Feet Apart, Haley Lu Richardson is an inspired choice for the role of silent-movie star Louise Brooks in The Chaperone.
Richardson’s dazzling smile, expressive eyes and lithe grace as a dancer all combine to create a vivid portrait of the ambitious young Louise, ripe and ready at the age of 15 to make her fortune as a performer.
In The Chaperone she has been accepted to study dance at Denishawn, the famous New York modern dance company founded by dancer-choreographers Ruth St Denis (Miranda Otto) and her husband Ted Shawn (Robert Fairchild), but her parents in Wichita, Kansas, say she cannot go to New York without a chaperone.
This is where Norma Carlisle comes in. A neighbour of the Brooks family, she hears they need a chaperone for Louise and volunteers for the job.
Norma, played with style by the patrician Elizabeth McGovern (Lady Cora in the TV series Downton Abbey) is a conservative Presbyterian wife and matron who takes her chaperoning seriously.
But she is no match for the vivacious, independent-minded young dancer, who breaks rules, defies authority and tramples convention.
The Chaperone is an absorbing story of the interaction between the two, each with her own agenda.
Louise is the archetypal flapper girl, chic in her radical bobbed hairstyle, ready to embrace the freedoms of the jazz age and embrace new opportunities for women.
Norma has her own secrets. As a toddler she was adopted from a Catholic orphanage in New York, and she goes in search of her family history while Louise is busy at dance classes.
When the nuns refuse to release her adoption file, she quietly approaches the cleaner, Joseph Schmidt (Geza Rohrig, the Hungarian actor who starred as the concentration camp hero in Son of Saul).
Schmidt, a German, was interned in a US camp during World War I. On release he found his wife dead and his small daughter in the orphanage. He and Carlisle become friends and with his help she traces her birth mother (Blythe Danner).
Though Louise is full of excitement at having been invited to go touring with the Denishawn troupe, she is far more aware of what is happening than her companion realises.
The pair have a surprise reunion 20 years later when Norma, back home in Kansas, finds that Louise is living close by.
The Chaperone is elegantly photographed with jazz age style by Nick Remy Matthews and directed by Michael Engler, best known as director of the TV shows Sex and the City and Downton Abby.
The film is produced by Elizabeth McGovern, who was inspired when she recorded the audio book of Laura Moriarty’s novel, The Chaperone. She enlisted the help of Downton Abbey’s creator and script-writer Julian Fellowes, who wrote the script for the film.
Louise Brooks was one of silent cinema’s greatest stars, noted as a flapper icon and sex symbol and famous for her innovative bob hairstyle, which was copied by thousands of young women across the world. Her heyday was the 1920s and ‘30s but her career did not survive the advent of talking movies.
Little is known of the real chaperone who accompanied the young star to New York in 1921 and McGovern’s character is a fictional figure.
The Chaperone is showing at Luna Leederville, Luna On SX and the Windsor Cinema.
Watch the trailer…